When I was a kid, my Mom baked the best everything. Even now, friends tell me they remember “those big spice cookies your Mom used to bake”. If a plumber came to our house, he might leave with a loaf of zucchini bread or a foil wrapped plate of cookies. My brothers, sisters and I thought it was weird that she gave food to strangers, but the first time I gave a plate of peanut butter cookies to some landscapers working in our yard, I understood why she did it. Many people aren’t fortunate enough to grow up in a house where food is made from scratch. When you give people homemade food, they really appreciate it. I bake for people because I love how happy it makes them.
My Mom has five children and turned 70 years old earlier this year. How she didn’t serve some of those years in prison or a mental institution is beyond me. Don’t let the cherubic smiles (on most of us) fool you…we were a rough bunch and she had her hands full.
She made dinner every night and most of it was delicious comfort food – chicken paprikash, ravioli and cloverleaf dinner rolls, pierogi stuffed with cabbage or mashed potato with sour cream and baked fish. Some not so delicious – creamed chipped ham on toast, liver, city chicken. Fun fact: Did you know that “city chicken” is actually pork? Yeah, I didn’t either until my 30‘s.
She also made homemade bread. It didn’t matter what kind of day I had, opening the front door to the smell of bread fresh out of the oven made everything better. A warm thick slice of toast with melted butter smeared on top was the perfect after school snack.
My Grandma (Mom’s mom) lived in Cleveland, and this is her recipe. It was just a four-hour drive from our house, but I’m sure the hassle of piling all of us into a car and driving up there was a headache, so we only drove up once a year. As a child, the drive seemed like an eternity. Especially when you’re in the back seat squeezing an empty Folger’s can between your knees, pressing your little cheek against the cool window and praying for sweet death. Maybe a bit dramatic, but riding in the back seat never ends well for me.
Here is my Grandma’s original recipe (click the picture to enlarge). You can also add 1 cup of raisins into the dough and make raisin bread. Please note my Grandma’s suggestion that “powdered sugar frosting is good on raisin bread”. As if any of us need to be convinced.
2 oz. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 ½ cups 2% milk
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast (one packet) (mix with 1 teaspoon sugar & 1½ Tablespoons warm water)
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 egg yolks
½ cup sour cream
6 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
Scald butter and milk in small saucepan over low heat. Scald means to simmer, but do not let it boil.
Once butter is melted and you see small bubbles along the side of the pan (see pic above), remove from heat and add sugar and salt. Allow mixture to cool to lukewarm (115°). To speed up the cooling process, I’ve put the pan in the fridge for about 15 minutes. While milk is cooling, in a small bowl or cup, mix yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1½ Tablespoons warm water and let the yeast bloom for 10-15 minutes. This is how good yeast should look. If your yeast doesn’t become bubbly or foamy, it may be dead. Check those expiration dates before starting!
Once milk has cooled to lukewarm, add yeast mixture and egg yolks to milk and set aside.
Put 3 cups flour and sour cream in food processor. Add milk and pulse to mix. Add 2 more cups of flour, pulse until mixed. Add last cup and pulse until well combined. If you don’t have a food processor, you can do all of this in a mixer. Start the dough with the paddle attachment and when the final cup of flour is added, switch to the dough hook and mix until all flour is incorporated. If dough is too sticky, add more flour, a Tablespoon at a time until it’s easy to remove from the dough hook or food processor. It should be a little sticky, but not wet.
Remove dough and put onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough for 5-10 minutes. You could knead in your mixer for 5 minutes on low, but kneading by hand is relaxing. Click this link if you want instructions on how to knead dough. After kneading, place into a large buttered bowl, cover with a towel and let rise (proof) in a warm place for about 2 hours. Dough should be double in size.
After dough is double in size, divide dough into two equal pieces and shape into loaves. Place into buttered 9×5 loaf pans and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
After dough has risen, brush top with egg wash and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. I have a convection oven, but if you don’t drop the temperature by 25° F and check at 25 minutes to see if it’s done. If not, bake for another few minutes. Bread should be golden brown on the top and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool completely before slicing. Good luck with that. Enjoy!
This picture was taken in Colorado, November, 1995. We went out to visit my Grandma and Aunt Joan (both pictured). My kids had just turned one and my husband and I spent nearly the entire time following them up and down the stairs behind us. It was the last time that I saw my Grandma, as she passed away six months later. I am so grateful I had the chance to spend that time with her. Every afternoon we had to watch “her show”, Walker Texas Ranger. Whenever someone mentions Chuck Norris, I think of her…which is weird, but it makes me smile.